50 Ways to Expose Yourself to Randomness

Cal Newport’s three step way to become interesting:

1. Do fewer structured activities.
2. Spend more time exploring, thinking, and exposing yourself to potentially interesting things.
3. If something catches your attention, use the abundant free time generated by rule 1 to quickly follow up.

Below are 50 ideas for step 2. They are all direct quotes from Tom Peters. I bolded the numbers of the best.

1. Go to the nearest magazine shop. Now. Spend 20 minutes. Pick up 20 — twenty! — magazines. None should be ones you normally read. Spend the better part of a day perusing them. Tear stuff out. Make notes. Create files. Goal: Stretch! Repeat . . . monthly . . . or at least bi-monthly.

2. Go to the Web. Now. Relax. Follow your bliss! Visit at least 15 sites you haven’t visited before. Follow any chain that is even a little intriguing. Bookmark a few of the best. Repeat . . . at least once a week.

3. Take off this Wednesday afternoon. Wander the closest mall . . . for two hours. Note the stuff you like. (And hate.) Products, merchandising, whatever. Repeat . . . bimonthly.

4. Buy a packet of 3 x 5-inch notecards. Carry them around with you. Always. Record cool stuff. Awful stuff. Daily. Review your card pack every Sunday. (Obsess on this!)

5. Going the same place for vacation next year? Why not someplace new? Why not one of those university-sponsored 12-day trips to explore some weird phenomenon?

6. Project stuck in a rut? Look through your Rolodex. Who’s the oddest duck in there? Call her/him. Invite her/him to lunch. Pick her/his brain for a couple of hours about your project.

7. Create a new habit: Visit your Rolodex. Once a month. Pick a name of someone interesting you’ve lost touch with. Take her/him to lunch . . . next week.

8. New habit: You’re in a meeting. Someone you don’t know makes an interesting contribution. Invite him/her to lunch . . . in the next two weeks.

9. You run across somebody interesting. As a matter of course, ask her (him) what’s the best thing she/he’s read in the last 90 days. Order it from Amazon.com . . . this afternoon.

10. Take tomorrow afternoon off. Rain or shine. Wander a corner of the city you’ve never explored before.

11. Go to the local Rite Aid. Buy a $2 notebook. Title it Observations I. Start recording. Now. Anything and everything. (Now = Now.)

12. Going out this Saturday night? Go some place new.

13. Having a dinner party next Sunday? Invite somebody — interesting — you’ve never invited before. (Odds are, he/she won’t accept. So what? Go for it. It’s just like selling encyclopedias. No ring doorbell = No sale.)

14. Go past a kiosk advertising local Community College courses for this fall. (Or one of the Learning Annex catalogues.) Grab a copy. Look it over this evening. Pick a couple of interesting courses and topics you’ve always wanted to know more about. Call the professor (with a little detective work, you can find her). If you’re intrigued, sign up and . . . at least . . . go to the orientation session.

15. Read a provocative article in a business journal. Triggers a thought? E-mail the author. So what if you never hear back? (The odds are actually pretty high that you will. Trust me.)

16. At church this Sunday, the pastor announces a new fund drive. Sure you’re busy. (Who isn’t?) Go to the organizing meeting after services. Sign up!

17. You’re working with your 13-year-old on his science project. You find you’re having fun. Go to school with him tomorrow . . . and volunteer to talk to the class about the topic.

18. A crummy little assignment comes along. But it would give you a chance to work with a group of people you’ve never worked with before. Take the assignment.

19. You’re really pissed off at what’s going on in your kid’s school. So run for the school board.

20. You aren’t really interested in changing jobs. But there’s a neat job fair in the next town this weekend. Go.

21. An old college pal of yours invites you to go on a long weekend by the lake. You never do things like that. Go.

22. A really cool job opening overseas comes up. It fits your skill set. You couldn’t possibly consider it. You’ve got a nine-year-old and your husband is content with his job. At least call someone . . . and find out more about it.

23. You’re on the fast track. But a fascinating job opens up . . . far away. It looks like a detour. But you could learn something really new. Really cool. Go talk to the guy/gal about it. (Now.)

24. The eighth grade teacher is looking for chaperones for the trip to the natural history museum. You’re a law firm partner, for God’s sake, making $350,000 a year. Volunteer.

25. You love taking pictures. You pick up a brochure advertising a four-day photography workshop in Maine next summer. Go to the workshop.

26. A friend of yours, a small-business owner, is go-ing to Thailand on a sourcing trip. She invites you to join her. Go.

27. There’s a great ball game on ESPN in an hour. Forget it. Go on that walk you love . . . that you haven’t taken for a year.

28. I’m not much on planning. But how about sitting down with your spouse/significant other and making a list of three or four things you’ve “been meaning to do” that are novel . . . then coming up with a scheme for doing at least one of them in the next nine months?

29. You’ve a-l-w-a-y-s wanted to go to the Yucatan. So at least call a travel agent . . . this week. (How about right now?)

30. You know “the action is at the front line.” Spend a month (two days a week) on a self-styled training program that rotates you through all the front-line jobs in the hotel/distribution center/whatever.

31. Ask a first-line supervisor who the most motivated clerk in the store is. Take him/her to lunch . . . in the next three weeks.

32. You spot a Cool Article in the division newsletter. Call the person involved. Take her/him to lunch. Tomorrow. Learn more. (Repeat.) (Regularly.)

33. You and your spouse go to a great play this Saturday. On Monday, call the director and ask him/her if you can come by and chat some time in the next two weeks. (If the chat goes well, ask her/him to come in to address your 18 colleagues in the Accounting Dept. at a Brown Bag Lunch Session later this month.)

34. Institute a monthly Brown Bag Lunch Session. Encourage all your colleagues to nominate interesting people to be invited. Criterion: “I wouldn’t have expected us to invite — — .”

35. Volunteer to take charge of recruiting for the next year/six months. Seek out input/applications from places the unit has never approached before.

36. Consider a . . . four-month sabbatical.

37. Get up from your desk. Now. Take a two-hour walk on the beach. In the hills. Whatever. Repeat . . . once every couple of weeks. (Weekly?)

38. Seriously consider approaching your boss about working a day a week at home.

39. Take the door off your office.

40. You’ve got a couple of pals who are readers. Start a Reading Group that gets together every third Thursday. Include stuff that’s pretty far out. (Invite a noteworthy local author to talk to your group now and again.)

41. Join Toastmasters. (I know it’s a repeat. It’s important!)

42. Pen an article for the division newsletter.

43. In the quarterly alumni magazine, you read about a pal who’s chosen to do something offbeat with her life. Call her. Tomorrow. (Or today.)

44. Buy that surprisingly colorful outfit you saw yesterday. Wear it to work. Tomorrow.

45. Develop a set of probing questions to use at meetings. “Will this really make a difference?” “Will anybody remember what we’re doing here two years from now?” “Can we brag to our spouse/kids about this project?”

46. Assess every project you propose by the “WOW!”/ “Is it Worth Doing?” criteria.

47. Call the Principal Client for your last project. Ask her to lunch. Within the next two weeks. Conduct a no-holds-barred debriefing on how you and your team did . . . and might have done. Now.

48. Call the wisest person you know. (A fabulous professor you had 15 years ago?) Ask her/him to lunch. Ask her/him if he or she would be willing to sit with you for a couple of hours every quarter to talk about what you’ve done/where you’re going. (Try it. It can’t hurt.)

49. Become a Cub Scout/Brownie troop leader. Or direct your kid’s play at school. The idea: spend more time around children . . . they’re fascinating . . . spontaneous . . . and wise.

50. Build a great sandcastle!

19 comments on “50 Ways to Expose Yourself to Randomness
    • As a capitalist I feel that if the market will pay you a certain amount for your work then take it. With that said, when I clicked on the link and see how much profit is made per partner all I though was that is obscene. Then I think of all the lawyer fees I have had to pay to protect myself from frivolous lawsuits, and now I am not surprised. I also read the paperwork on class action lawsuits I have been a part of and yes I got a free year of credit monitoring and the law firms raked in millions of dollars. It is crazy.

  • Nice post Ben! This past year I have been doing a bunch of these things – mostly just having an unstructured schedule – and I have came up with tons of ideas and completely changed. This stuff really works.

  • Excellent list. I may try to fit some of these into my already-tight schedule.

    The default pronoun in English for an anonymous agent is the masculine. We often do away with outdated rules of grammar because they are tedious or impractical (“Is this the exam for which you were studying last night?”). We should do the same with this PC grammar nonsense. There are far greater gender relation issues to fry.

  • Very nice list, I would like to echo #41 “Join Toastmasters”. I joined about a year ago and have made terrific strides in my communication skills. Sure some of the aspects like applauding for everything are a little corny, but the confidence you gain through speaking can be applied to all areas of life. There are also plenty of leadership opportunities to go along with speaking opportunities. A great organization.


  • Those are per-capita profits, not salaries… and those are the top 100 firms, not your typical small-town firm. $350,000 sounds about right for a biz law partner with a firm in an average-to-smaller city.

  • Cool list. The other day I was reading an article about, of all things, ICP fans, and a game that many of them play, “Morton’s List”, which basically consists of rolling dice to choose a group activity from a massive list of possibilities- that could be anything from reading a book or having a dinner party to starting a business or playing practical jokes- all held together with a peculiar game-mythology and degree system. I thought it was an intriguing, if silly, idea. This list reminds me of a more “grown-up” version, but it amounts to the same thing- expanding your horizons by breaking from your routine and allowing outlets for serendipity to enter your life.

  • Love this list! One great tip is that if you live near any university, the university likely often has free talks by prominent professors, professionals, and other well known individuals. Check out these talks once in a while — sit in on some topic that you know NOTHING about! You might learn something new 🙂 I love doing this in my university…. although I usually go to talks that already interest me..

  • I exposed myself to randomness by asking mi neighbor to lend me her dog to walk. Also, by asking my ex-boss (whom I hated) to lunch. Oh, and by writing this comment…

    Great article!

  • WOW! Is this project worth doing?

    Not from a farmer’s standpoint. What a bunch of lame ideas to find ways to spend money.
    Here’s a way to find some randomness:
    Stop going places and do some actual thinking for a while. Stop looking outside your own mind for ways to avoid your actual senses and the world around you.
    You don’t ‘find’ randomness: it finds YOU. Every day, every minute, every second. How you use it is a matter of consciousness. If you don’t see randomness around you, then you are not actually a living being, but a construct of corporations and money, acting as a pawn in the pursuit of ‘choices’ which you don’t consciously make (notice how expensive many of the above suggestions are). You merely make up reasons why you did things after the fact and change the log book entries to pretend you ‘meant to do that’, or that you really wanted to go to Thailand and check out the sweat shops your friend will be using via remote control to avoid dealing with the local redneck labor force and their pesky union.

  • Really great stuff. I spend a lot of time encouraging people to try new stuff and be more random. Love some of these suggestions and I’m going to do them.

  • Some good ideas, but honestly some make the person doing it sound like a networking douchebag (ask for several hours of someone’s time every quarter?)

  • Ben – thanks for outlining how this post came back to the forefront after a year. I enjoyed it just as much this time as I did a year ago. This post should be revisited yearly, if not more often.

  • Should it not be mentioned that after picking up the 20 magazines in #1, one should purchase them before proceeding to tear pages out of them.

    Also, regarding #1, what richy rich wrote this article? With magazine rack prices being $4-$6 you are talking about spending $100 per month? or bi-monthly? Really?

    How about not spending borderline hording-style time on digging through, extracting, and archiving information from 20 magazines and stick to a little more reasonable number like 5 per month?

    Agree with picking up magazines that are outside of the comfort zone. It is amazing how much interesting stuff can be learned from women’s magazines, i.e., Martha Stewart or Real Simple; not Cosmopolitan.

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